Power Meter: why bike and train with it?
Power is something you read about in every single one of my race reports and I keep sharing it on social media. The power meter has saved my race more than once.
Why train with it? Simple: “That what is measured, improves.” I believe in this wholeheartedly.
The reason to train is to improve one’s fitness. This includes cardio and physical strength. To accomplish this we continually challenge our current capability and allow the body to adapt to the new stresses placed on it. Once adapted, the cycle starts over. So why does measuring your power output accomplish this better than other metrics? When I first started working with power on the bike, I read a lot about how to apply it. Here are the key points I find to be most valuable:
Power measures performance (mechanical feedback/output) which is something that cannot be determined from heart rate (metabolic feedback/input).
For example, what if your heart rate is 10 beats higher than usual? What does that mean? Is it good or bad? The only way to answer that question is to know if you were putting out more power or less than usual. It’s about measuring intensity. Think of heart rate like the tachometer of a car. It shows you how hard your engine is working. It’s similar to rate of perceived exertion (RPE). Both these metrics are input or feedback. Power (and speed), however, are directly related to performance. Those metrics show your output.
It is a true metric.
Being a true metric means that it remains relatively unaffected by temperature, time of day, heart rate, stress, sleep quantity and quality, hydration, caffeine intake, wind speed, road surface, road grade, etc… You get my point. If you have too much coffee or a fight with your spouse before your training session, your heart rate is likely already elevated before you even start.
It is a more accurate training measurement.
For example, heart rate takes a while to climb and is therefore useless for shorter intervals because the body cannot respond before the interval is over whereas power provides an instantaneous readout. Power training is better at increasing muscular strength because you now have a finite reference point when asked to increase resistance.
It is the most consistent and direct measure of an athlete’s effort.
Consistency is key to great training. That makes it the best metric to use when tracking an athlete’s training and progress.
It is the only measure that shows a true change in fitness or the performance of an athlete over a period of time.
Heart rate values fluctuate over time whereas power allows the user to determine increases over specific durations to gauge improvement. When training to improve a specific duration, training with power can also help prevent plateaus in fitness development. And it improves cardiovascular fitness as a natural by-product.
It improves Training Efficiency and Quality
Shorter sessions can still have a great effect. It also adds variety and motivation to your existing workout routine.
It can help to identify strength and weaknesses
Without it, a rider simply knows where/when they feel weakest but doesn’t understand why. With power we can develop your peak power curve and know specifically what to train to improve, keeping your goal and races in mind.